Meet the Model – Hank the House Sparrow
By Peter Hanscomb
The house sparrow , Passer domesticus is still a common sight in most UK gardens and in 2016 , it was voted the most commonly observed garden bird in the UK according to the RSPB big garden watch The small bird is a member of the sparrow family , Passeridae and can be found in most corners of the world. House sparrows typically mate for life and the male bird will protect both his mate and nest site from other male birds. The species originated in the middle east and has spread to most of Europe , Africa and North America and in fact it’s now has the largest range of any wild bird. The house sparrow is a social bird , roosting in communities and often forming large flocks which may also contain other species of birds. Predominantly a ground feeding bird the house sparrow is a common sight at bird feeding stations and bird baths.
The house sparrow has a typical length of around 16 cm and weights in at between 25 to 35 g . The male has a dark grey head with black and white markings, with dark brown and grey plumage and is slightly bigger than the female. Females and young birds have a more pale brown and light grey plumage. The house sparrow has a strong association with humans and seems to prefer to live in and around our urban environments. Typically it will avoid dense woodland and open grass lands. The house sparrow is officially classified as a species of least concern on the UN red list , however recent studies in the UK have noted a steep decline in numbers.of around 70 %. The cause of the decline in numbers is still a mystery , various theories include greater levels of pollution , particularly linked to the introduction of lead free petrol , electromagnetic radiation from mobile phones and increased numbers of predators such as the Sparrowhawk.
The house sparrow is monogamous, and typically mates for life. Male house sparrows guard their mates carefully however the male bird is also known to have multiple female mates in the same breeding season. The bird will utilise a variety of nesting sites , preferring to nest in cavities in the eaves of houses , holes in cliffs or tree hollows. the nest is usually domed with an outer layer of twigs and a lining of grass or leaves. Breeding normally starts in May , clutches of four or five eggs are laid twice or three times a year , in a good season the female might lay more clutches but this is rare in the UK. The eggs hatch after a short incubation period of 12 days. The young house sparrows will remain in the nest for a couple of weeks and both parents feed the young. The chicks are born blind and open their eyes after four-five days. The young birds leave the nest fully developed and able to feed themselves however the survival rate is low with only 20 % of the young birds surviving the first year of adulthood. The oldest wild house sparrow was recorded in Denmark with a ringed bird living for nineteen years.
As an adult, the house sparrow mostly feeds on the seeds of grains and weeds, but it is opportunistic and adaptable, and eats whatever foods are available. In common with many other birds, the house sparrow requires grit to digest the harder items in its diet. Grit can be either stone, often grains of masonry, or the shells of eggs or snails.
Several studies of the house sparrow in temperate agricultural areas have found the proportion of seeds in its diet to be about 90%. It will eat almost any seeds, but where it has a choice, it prefers oats and wheat. In urban areas, the house sparrow feeds largely on food provided directly or indirectly by humans, such as bread, though it prefers raw seeds.The house sparrow also eats some plant matter besides seeds, including buds, berries, and fruits such as grapes and cherries. Animals form another important part of the house sparrow’s diet, chiefly insects, of which beetles, caterpillars and aphids.
The house sparrow’s main predators are cats and birds of prey, hawks and owls .but many other animals prey on them, including squirrels.
House Sparrow – Passer domesticus
Length 14-15 cm
Wingspan 25 cm
Weight 25-40 g
UK numbers 5,300,000 breeding pairs
Life expectancy 2-3 years in the wild
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